ollowing recent advances in fashion and beauty (see: Covergirl’s first Cover-guy!), last month saw the introduction of new boundary-breaking models. Inclusion of spokespeople of different races, faiths, and other groups is a process that has been gaining momentum, and hopefully will continue to grow. Here are three powerful women who stood out—and spoke out—in their industries.
Hot on the heels of introducing their new male spokesmodel, CoverGirl unveiled the identity of yet another brand ambassador: beauty blogger Nura Afia. Nura is an already well-known Denver-based Muslim, boasting 213,000 YouTube followers and 13 million views on her makeup tutorials (and counting!); she has begun to spark headlines particularly because she is the first CoverGIrl to wear a hijab. Nura has previously worked with Revlon and Anastasia Beverly Hills, but her place in the campaign brings a new, national scope and sheds significantly more light on the expanding boundaries of the beauty world.
Growing up, Nura says that she had been “trained” to dress modestly and wear a hijab due to her faith; however, her marriage to her Asef Noorzai helped her see the beauty in such traditions. Some disapproving critics have called the use of cosmetics “inappropriate” for drawing attention to the Muslim women to use it, but Nura disagrees—just like her conservative dress, it is a form of expression and confidence, a portrayal of respect. For Nura, her role as the face of CoverGirl’s campaign is an opportunity to show other Muslim women that brands do care about them as consumers, and important ones at that. She hopes that her new commercial and Times Square billboard will prove it.
Janine Tugonon is no stranger to the stage: she is the former Miss Universe Philippines, and first runner-up in Miss Universe Las Vegas. After shining in the pageant circuit, she broke into the modeling industry, with all of its great successes and devastating failures. In her most recent interview with Elle Magazine, she tells an incredibly truthful story: she had excelled in her classes and in the Miss Universe pageants, so the rejection that often comes with the modeling industry was tough to bear. Another challenge came from relocating to the U.S., where it is no secret that the modeling industry continues to be dominated by blonde hair and blue eyes.
During casting, a continued concern is the relatively small chance that her diversity would land her the job: “I saw a girl that I know and I’m like “Shoot!” because we have the same ethnicity, and if she gets the job, it means I didn’t get it…it’s hard to get in that role when you’re in the minority.” Even among Asians, Janine is a “very different look”—an addition to the struggle she faces in trying to book the minority role.
Yet the unfortunate fact, which Janine and other minorities must presently push through and the industry must work to improve, is that “it’s how the business is. Complaining is a waste of time.” If anything, the odds against Janine have only made her more determined to turn small beginnings into sparkling successes. “Never compare your path or route to others. You just go through your lane and keep running in your lane.”
Janine has most recently landed the coveted spot in the newest Victoria’s Secret PINK ad, making her the first Filipino model to represent the brand.
In 2002, a Pakistani council ruled that Mukhtaran Mai’s brother had insulted a rival clan. The punishment fell to Mai: she was gang-raped, then paraded naked in public on the orders of her tribe’s elders. 14 years after this horrendous event, Mai has taken to the runway during Pakistan’s annual fashion week. Mai told The Associated Press, “if one step I take, if that helps even one woman, I would be very happy to do that.”
Mai’s story is one of strength and perseverance far beyond what even other victims of similar punishment have shared. Rather than committing suicide, as many Pakistani women in her position have done, Mai fought publicly, all the way to the Supreme Court; however, all fourteen men tried were eventually released on appeal. In the wake of the such a devastating outcome, Mai has gone on to work as an international advocate for women’s rights, and has founded a charity to sponsor a woman’s shelter and girl’s school in Meerwala, her hometown.
At the fashion show, Mai donned a light green embroidered bridal shirt, silver, silk pajama pants, and a matching scarf covering her hair. The fashion showcase in itself started in 2009, a response to religious Pakistani fundamentalists who worked to enforce strict codes and behavioral restrictions on Pakistani women. “My message for my sisters is that we aren’t weak,” said Mai. “We have a heart and brain, we also think. I ask my sisters to not lose hope in the face of injustice, for we will get justice one day for sure.”